Joseph Edwin Haeger reviews Girl Like a Bomb by Autumn Christian. (CLASH Books)
What I love about José Saramago is he takes surreal premises and writes them in a matter of fact manner, never acknowledging the fantastical nature of the story. He writes like the extraordinary is nothing but another ordinary day. The supernatural elements in his stories simply happen and then they don’t. There isn’t much exploration into the why, but rather, he focuses on the repercussions of the what.
Autumn Christian has a similar angle at play in her new novel, Girl Like a Bomb. The unexplainable is left as something that simply happened and now the characters—and the larger world—have to deal with the effects. She doesn’t try to dissect the unnatural elements of the book because that wouldn’t do anything other than cheapen the overall themes of the book. And this is a book that succeeds because it doesn’t reach for the low-hanging fruit. Christian could have easily written a fast and funny book, but instead chose to take it one step further and create a story with deep meaning.
Beverly Sykes is a seemingly empty pit of sexual desire. She can’t get enough of it. But from the moment she loses her virginity, she realizes there is something a little different about her body. Instead of a regular orgasm, she feels a pressure building inside her and then it, what she likens to an explosion, escapes from within. The people she has sex with love it.
It doesn’t take long before Beverly is known as someone who will sleep with anyone, but the bigger bit of news is that her explosions do more than bring people to a lustful euphoria. Having sex with Beverly Sykes actually changes people by opening up their potential. They become better people. Burnouts are more hygienic, work regular jobs, and think of the greater good. After Beverly comes to terms with these changes being more than a coincidence, she capitalizes on her gift for monetary gain and, in the end, tries to make the world a better place.
In the beginning, there is quite a bit of focus on Beverly’s lust and unquenchable thirst for sex and I asked myself if this was what the whole book was going to be. A young girl wants to fuck, and then she goes out and fucks? There’s a market for that, but I’m not necessarily in the target audience. Then, around fifty pages into the book, there is a turn and it becomes about something so much more.
Christian could have easily written a fast and funny book, but instead chose to take it one step further and create a story with deep meaning.
Christian investigates how fulfilling a life of promiscuity can be while paralleling it with sacrificing your life for the greater good. The intersections these themes cross is astounding and create a new way of regarding these subjects. Girl Like a Bomb unfolds slowly and, when I thought it had reached its peak of absurdity, Christian takes it a step further and I kicked myself for doubting the trajectory.
I love how big this book became; at the same time, Christian makes it feel so natural. How the world reacts to Beverly and the consequences she deals with—for good or ill—are believable and understandable. Looking back on it, my complaint about the first chunk of the book was misguided because I was making false assumptions, and Christian knew exactly what she was doing the whole time.
The conclusion of Girl Like a Bomb is sweeter than the rest of the book, but it too feels natural. How else was this book going to end? It could have been subversive, but that would’ve taken the story too far in a direction that was inauthentic. It would have felt forced and the book would have suffered for it.
Christian is a writer you can trust, because even when she takes an odd turn, we grasp that’s exactly what the story needed, we just hadn’t realized it yet. Sure, sex sells, but the emotional core in Girl Like a Bomb is why it’s going to be remembered for years to come.